Deaccessioning and arsenic

Sally Shelton Shelton.Sally at NMNH.SI.EDU
Fri Oct 22 08:44:01 CDT 1999

Bob, you're absolutely right in opting not to allow old
taxidermy to fall into public hands. Leaving out the issues
of protected species and permits and all of that, there is
still the very real issue of liability. It would be very
possible for someone to come back at you later with a
lawsuit, saying that you may have warned them but in a way
they didn't understand, or that you failed to detail the
health problems that might be associated with these, or any
of a hundred different other charges. Or your buyer might be
willing to assume the risk, but his heirs might not be.
You're just too vulnerable with specimens known to be
hazardous. It's a litigious society and there will always be
people out there who think they can retire on what they
collect from lawsuits. In a situation like this, you're not
exactly a moving target.

I'd steer clear of putting specimens up at public auction,
anyway, unless there's a compelling reason for doing so. It
is a legitimate means of deaccessioning, but it also brings
formerly public trust items into the private market sector,
and there can be ethical problems with that. There can also
be legal problems with protected species, material from
public lands, etc. In addition, for every big splashy public
auction price you hear about, there are dozens of instances
where the seller went away disappointed because what was
offered fell well below what the seller believed was the
worth. In short, odds are you're not going to recoup much
through auction of natural history materials.

In fact, before I deaccessioned anything known to be
contaminated or otherwise hazardous (arsenic, mercury,
asbestos, radioactive, heavy pesticide/fumigant history),
I'd make it a point to talk to professionals is hazmat or
biohazard offices. You may be legally required to dispose of
such specimens through destruction at an approved site, as
well as all associated storage materials. (If you're not
interested in getting rid of contaminated specimens, the
same people can advise you on containment as well as on risk
assessment and due diligence in notifying and training staff
who have to deal with problematic materials.)

Sally Shelton
Collections Officer, NMNH
Smithsonian Institution

More information about the Taxacom mailing list